BAME key workers from working class backgrounds are falling ill and dying in disproportion to the rest of the population.

By way of introduction 

My name is Lol Benson, I am scouse and a middle aged white man who works at Manchester Uni as a senior lecturer in healthcare management. I first developed depression in 2010, triggered by the bereavement of my mum Kathy Benson and then over the following three years I began to behave more and more oddly. I was taken by my wife one evening down to my local mental health crisis service in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. This was the one of the most disturbing evenings of my life which I will never forget. I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder by the on duty consultant psychiatrist who was doubly trained in psychotherapy. The choice he presented to me was he could either section me and admit me to an in patient unit or take a prescription, go to Boots and then in the morning be visited by a CPN from the crisis team. I thought my professional and personal life had just ended. In the 1980s I used to work for the NHS as a planner contributing to the closure of the big ‘loony bin’ Storthes Hall Hospital in the countryside five miles from Huddersfield. Now I was officially given a label of having bipolar disorder and in the 1980s I might have been sectioned and lost in Storthes Hall which at its height had a population of 3,000.

Spin this forward to 2020 and I still every morning I wake up and think I am mentally ill and it can’t be reversed. I also know that people with long term mental health conditions live on average 10 to 15 years less than people not afflicted. I know that if you take your meds, have a health lifestyle etc that the odds are that you can live just as long as the national average for a man in the U.K. of between 79 to 80 years and perhaps longer. 

So as I now always take my meds I am pretty stable but living through a pandemic is just as unsettling to me as the pandemic of AIDS in the UK of 1980s. Though there was obviously no national lockdown like now. The lockdown and the enormity of it does trigger some mania in me though adjusting my meds seems to work. I have it very lucky though as I said as I am a middle calls white man with a hugely supportive wife. I joined via Zoom a wonderfully powerful talk from Gary Younge the Guardian journalist. The talk had been arranged by my union the UCU. He had just been appointed professor of sociology at Manchester Uni. One of a handful of BAME senior professors. His talk was about his mum who had been a nurse who travelled to the U.K. in 1962 from Jamaica. This was to help the NHS as their was a shortage of nurses then as there is now. She was part of the Windrush generation who were treated appallingly the Tories. He talked a lot about how BAME key workers from working class backgrounds are falling ill and dying in disproportion to the rest of the population. It was a powerful and humbling hour and I thought of the likely rise in the mental illness for people from BAME backgrounds. I don’t know if there are any figures on this yet but I will keep an eye on this over the next few weeks and I look forward to to making another contribution to.  

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, please consider donating to our Hardship Fund for people with a mental health condition who are in financial need during COVID19. Mad Covid is an entirely unfunded group.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. We ask that you seek our permission before you use any of our material – this includes researchers who want to harvest our data for analysis!

One thought on “BAME key workers from working class backgrounds are falling ill and dying in disproportion to the rest of the population.

  1. Thank you for this article. I remember visiting a friend in Storthes Hall many years ago, it didn’t inspire confidence. My exhusband has bi polar disorder, triggered in his 40s by an incident at work. He was misdiagnosed for a year as suffering from depression, which I have also experienced at intervals since the age of 19. His sudden descent into manic behaviour, moving furniture at random in the house, gardening frantically with 5 minute rests, enlightened me to the real problem. A quick referral to his psychiatrist produced the correct diagnosis plus lithium. Lithium is a hideous medication. It’s side effects are drastic and have left my ex with 22% kidney function. He is now mercifully on depakote, less dangerous, and reasonably stabilised in mood.
    Because of physical disabilities (he is 72), he has been unable to leave the house unaided for several years, so lockdown has had less effect on him than it has on me. Our daughter, his carer, travels between her home with me and his home. Both she and I are shielding ourselves as best we can due to his acute vulnerability to covid 19. I don’t leave the house, we have no garden, it’s a back to back straight onto the street. My daughter travels between the houses by taxi, using a face mask. Neither of us use the allowed exercise option because of increased infection risk, even wearing masks and allowing that locally people are being pretty good about distancing and we have been able to get regular supermarket deliveries. We combine his and our orders for one single delivery.
    Over the last few weeks, I have had several instances of mental distress or melt down. I am on maximum dose of fluoxetine, but do have some emergency diazepam, which are really intended to help with migraine attacks that last 3 or 4 days. I have used the diazepam 3 times so far. I am not under a psychiatrist’s care myself, but only my local GP.
    My daughter tries to calm me down when she is here, but it is putting her under stress too. She is agoraphobic and has mild OCD, and is also on medication.
    I am coping, insofar as I am coping, with reading a lot, light fiction, non challenging non fiction, and poetry. I also have three zoom groups which distract me, but also generate obligations (phone calls, writing minutes). If this goes on for months, and as I am 71 and have to shield my ex and daughter as his carer, a relaxation of lockdown may not help me much. At the moment, I am coping. Lots of people have it very much worse than me. Some of them have no active support at all. The local community centre, currently shut of course, at which I both volunteer and attend mental health support sessions, rings me weekly. I miss both the company, the activity, and the feeling of being useful.
    I know I have no valid reason to complain. I know I have no valid observable reason to go into melt down. Those two points don’t really help when the depression suddenly sweeps over me, the anxiety has me biting my nails to the quick and swearing furiously at the slightest difficulty, such as mistyping this post.
    Saying this helps. It concentrated my mind. I just hope it doesn’t disturb anyone else’s


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: